Looking Forward

Dr. Tom Mitzel to assume presidency on Jan. 2

On Jan. 2, 2020, a new era will begin as the Wesleyan and Owensboro communities welcome Dr. Tom Mitzel, the College’s 35th president. He will undertake a listening tour on day one to hear the hopes and dreams of the Wesleyan family and community members for the College’s future.

“Before good plans can be implemented,” said Mitzel, “it is important to know the thoughts of these important groups. I look forward to everyone’s involvement, and by the end of 90 days, we will begin to formalize plans for the short-, medium- and long-term periods with respect to diverse areas and needs.”

Dr. Mitzel has been president of Dickinson State University in North Dakota since 2015, where he has led enrollment growth and forged new financial pathways. He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Northern State University in his hometown, Aberdeen, S.D., and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at Boston College, followed by a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at The Ohio State University.

He was raised with three sisters and two brothers. “We were always, and remain to this day, very close,” he reflected as he remembered an arm injury as a fifth grader. “I was not unable to use the arm much at the time, but had always been active, so I was getting restless and veering slightly off the path of good actions.” Dr. Mitzel explained that his older brother was a very good high school athlete and got him into running. “It was one of the best choices I could have made. Running kept me out of trouble, kept me in shape, helped focus my mind in the right areas and gave me confidence I do not believe I would have gained otherwise.”

He recalls that one of his fondest memories is entering a 10K race as an adult with his brothers in his hometown. “After the race, we met for barbecue with all the relatives and spent the day enjoying each other’s company. The race itself was not extremely important, but being able to share that day with family is what keeps the moment fresh in my mind.”

Dr. Mitzel enrolled at Northern near his home as an English major, but changed his major after enrolling in organic chemistry. “I fell in love with the puzzle-like nature of chemistry, especially organic,” he explained. “As the semester and year continued, my intrigue grew to higher levels, and I knew I wanted to study chemistry and understand chemical pathways as a way to help me understand the world around me.

“I also met my wife, Rhonda, at Northern,” he shared, “so the university holds a special significance in my heart.” They were introduced by her roommate, with whom he worked, and went to dinner and a movie on their first date. “I was smitten from the beginning. We will celebrate 30 years of marriage on July 13, 2020. It seems like yesterday, and I treasure every day we have together!” Rhonda was a graphic design major and has worked with design and sign companies throughout her career.

Dr Mitzel taught organic chemistry for 12 years and served in many capacities at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, before becoming president of Dickinson State. He considers the most gratifying moments of his career, both as a faculty member and in administrative positions, to include the opportunity to help young people choose their paths that lead to adulthood. “Helping guide them through the process brings great joy.”

He also includes the opportunity to help faculty and staff ensure they have the tools they need to teach at the highest possible levels in the classroom, the laboratory, on the stage and the athletic field, etc. “None of these moments are easy to reach, and they take much work and planning, but when they come together correctly, I am most gratified.”

Dr. Mitzel enjoys reading, hiking, fishing, family time, and their three dogs; Lucky (a 13 ½-year-old Jack Russell), Dakota (a 9-year-old Black Lab and Jax (a young Jack Russell). “Jax and Dakota play fetch, and Jax and Lucky cuddle when it is time to relax after a busy day. They are each special in our hearts, and we love them a great deal.”

“I have enjoyed my career tremendously,” he reflected. “I always say that if you can look back at your past with fond memories, and you look forward to the new adventures with vigor and enthusiasm, you have chosen the correct path. Rhonda and I are certainly looking forward to being a part of the Wesleyan and Owensboro communities with great anticipation and enthusiasm.

“The alignment of the College with the United Methodist Church allows students to search for their meaning in the world while strengthening their character, and that is irreplaceable. An institution is so much more than bricks and mortar. It is the collective of those who fill the hallways, who interact as a community and family, whose voices resonate from the walls and construct the history of the campus. We cannot wait to be a part of The Wesleyan Way.”